Why Are Children’s Food Allergies On the Rise?
Peanut Butter. Peanuts. Mustard. Gluten. These are just a few of the items on an growing list of food contributing to children’s allergies. Recent studies show that allergies among children have risen by almost 20% since 1993!
There’s some debate over the question of whether kids are actually experiencing more allergies at all. Some say that what’s changed in recent years is more parents reporting allergy symptoms. One recent study confirmed other findings that the prevalence of food allergies for children is up by 18 percent since 1993:
“[The] indication that more children are going to their doctors and emergency rooms for food allergies … gives further evidence that we may be seeing a real rise in food allergy cases among children in the U.S.”
Dr. Harvey Leo, a pediatric allergist and researcher for University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and School of Public Health, has this to say about the increased visits to the hospital:
“These reports are solidifying what many pediatric allergists and pediatricians have been seeing since the later 1990’s.”
Dr. Wesley Burks, chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center, also weighs in on the issue:
“Definitely there has been an increase in the number of clinic visits for food allergy in the last 20 years. From my contacts in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, most every practicing allergist has seen this same increase.”
As a matter of fact, it doesn’t stop with simple allergy symptoms. Dr. Burks comments further on what doctors are seeing when children come into their offices:
“We are also seeing a larger number of children with multiple severe allergies and more allergies to foods that years ago would not be common [such as] kiwi, sesame seed, [or] mustard.”
Why is this happening? Why are more and more children experiencing allergies to otherwise harmless food? Dr. Burks offers an honest but somewhat frustrating answer:
“That is the question that everyone wants to know the answer [to] and so far there is only speculation as to why.”
All we have is theories. First is the theory that if some children are allowed to eat certain foods too early, then they may develop allergies to them. A similar theory is that certain foods, like nuts, may be introduced too early to children, perhaps as nut oils in creams or lotions used on infants, according to Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of the Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.
Next is the theory that the source of allergies lies in the “changes in the environment and food processing.” However, the theory that most doctors prescribe to is referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.”
Dr. Bill Parker, assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center, explains the hygiene hypothesis:
“Immune systems become over-reactive in very clean environments, [like those] associated with the medicine and hygiene practices [used today]. [In super clean environments] the immune system essentially lacks a normal workload… however, [it] does what it is built to do, and finds something to attack, often directing its attention toward such harmless things as pollen grains … even healthy food.”
This is all good information before children experience allergy symptoms. However, once they have, the key is finding the source of the allergy and avoiding it while working on building up the immune system. Dr. Bassett says that more than one hundred deaths are a result of allergies every year. So although “allergies” may not seem life threatening, “people need to take it seriously.”